21 January 2009

History is Whose Story?

Filed under: Christianity, Culture, First Lines — ktismatics @ 4:33 pm

Yesterday on the steps of the US Capitol the evangelical leader Rick Warren stirred a bit of controversy by concluding his inaugural invocation with a recitation of the Lord’s Prayer — a distinctly Christian prayer of course. I was surprised more by how he began:

Almighty God, our father, everything we see and everything we can’t see exists because of you alone. It all comes from you, it all belongs to you. It all exists for your glory. History is your story. The Scripture tells us “Hear, oh Israel, the Lord is our god; the Lord is one.”

“Hear, oh Israel” — this is the beginning of the Shema from Deuteronomy 6. Having wandered through the wilderness for forty years after fleeing Egypt, the Jewish people stand on the east bank of the Jordan, ready to cross over into the land of Canaan, also called Palestine. Moses has just delivered the Ten Commandments in Deuteronomy 5, and now he’s giving the people a set of final instructions and warnings before they surge across the river to take what God says is rightfully theirs. It’s at the beginning of the very next chapter that we read Moses’ instructions regarding what should be done with the current occupants of the land:

“when the LORD your God delivers them before you and you defeat them, then you shall utterly destroy them. You shall make no covenant with them and show no favor to them.” (Deuteronomy 7:2)

Is it mere coincidence that Warren chose of all things the Shema as the opening theme for his invocation at this particular juncture in history? I don’t think so.



  1. I noticed a similar comment from you on OST a couple of days back. I’m struck by the casualty figures from the most recent Israeli attack on the Canaanites: 1300 (not yet final) Gazans to 13 Israelis (Final – and including the very few victims of the rocket attacks). Almost all the victims on both sides are civilians i.e. collateral damage.


    Comment by samlcarr — 22 January 2009 @ 12:03 am

  2. I realize that the Shema is a general-purpose invocation, but do such texts ever fully escape their original context? Even its beginning: “the Lord our God, the Lord is one” — in Hebrew “Lord” is “Yahweh,” the name of the Hebrew god. Part of the reason Moses gives for slaughtering all the locals is that their practice of worshipping gods other than Yahweh will corrupt Israel if allowed to persist.

    Now that Israel is unilaterally restoring the status quo ante, Gaza will doubtless receded from public view in America. In the last public opinion poll prior to the withdrawal that I saw, 4 times as many Americans blamed Hamas as blamed Israel for the current conflict. In a poll taken two weeks earlier, when Israel was bombing but hadn’t yet launched the ground invasion, US public opinion was more evenly divided, with Democrats being far more likely than Republicans to regard Israel as the aggressor. Obama remained silent during the attacks, but most of the Democrats in congress publicly supported Israel. Press updates invariably included as background that the conflict began in response to Gaza’s launching of missiles into Israel — by sheer repetition this became accepted fact, as if everything had been A-OK in Gaza-Israel relations until then.

    There are plenty of reasons why the American government unconditionally supports Israel, but I believe the Biblical interpretation of “history as His story” plays a significant part in shaping public opinion. Obama had already been criticized by liberals for selecting Warren to deliver the invocation, inasmuch as Warren had been active in overturning the gay marriage law in California — so it’s not as though Warren is apolitical in his religious practice. In heading toward the close of his invocation he introduced the author of the Our Father prayer as Yeshua — the Jewish name for Jesus — again underscoring the Jewish-Christian connection and its long association with US politics.


    Comment by ktismatics — 22 January 2009 @ 6:21 am

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